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Happy Mother’s Day—Now Back to Work
Flex-time legislation aimed at working moms could undo protections against labor exploitation
By Ruth Rosen

You’re working harder and longer than ever. Your kids demand your attention. Your household suffers from benign neglect.

If only you had some time flexibility, you could get that leaking toilet fixed. You could take your son to the dentist and talk with your daughter’s teacher. You could visit your ailing parent.

Not to worry. The Republicans—famous for their support of labor and family-friendly policies—have come up with a solution. It’s called the “Family Time Flexibility Act,” and the House leadership, seeking to woo women voters, has promised to pass it by Mother’s Day as a gift to America’s working women.

You can almost hear Republican operatives laughing behind closed doors. “These women workers—they’re so exhausted from doing two jobs—one at work and one at home—they’ll never realize what we’re doing; they’ll jump at anything that promises more flexibility.”

And they’re probably right. Most of us crave flexible work hours. “I used to work for a company that gave ‘comp’ time when I worked overtime, and I loved it,” says Laurel Eby of San Jose, Calif.

But most of us don’t realize that this bill, with its seductive illusion of flexibility, would end one of the fundamental rights enacted by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938—a 40-hour workweek and time-and-a half pay for overtime.

Under the Family Time Flexibility Act, an employer can decide to reimburse you for overtime with compensatory time, rather than with pay.

So, if you work eight extra hours, your boss can give you 12 hours of comp time—which you can use or cash out sometime in the next 13 months, at the employer’s convenience.

So what’s wrong with such flexibility?

Plenty. “This bill,” says John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, “is about giving more flexibility to employers—not employees.” Employers, in short, get to decide when you work overtime and when you get to use your banked time. Jan Howe, a union member in San Ramon, Calif. agrees with Sweeney. She’s “seen how nasty my employer can be in intimidating my coworkers to work overtime.”

The Economic Policy Institute—a labor-supported think-tank—opposes the legislation because many low-wage, hourly workers simply cannot live without the extra money they earn working overtime. They also fear employers will discriminate against employees who insist on overtime pay rather than comp time. For these low-wage workers, says Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.), the result will be “less time for their families and less income to support those families.”

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who voted against the bill, says that “employees are in effect being asked to give a no-interest loan to their employer.” If a company goes belly up—which happened to more than 500,000 businesses last year—you might have banked a month of comp time, but you may never get it.

Arlie Hochschild, professor of sociology at the University of California- Berkeley, and author of The Second Shift and The Time Bind, views this legislation as “a fig leaf covering corporate interests.” The boss, she says, “will have more incentive to increase overtime, and the worker will get an IOU.”

Not surprisingly, those who support the legislation include the National Association of Manufacturers and other business groups who stand to gain greater flexibility and profit from the bill’s passage.

With so many mothers in the workforce, balancing work and family life has clearly emerged as the labor dilemma of the 21st century. Flexible schedules are already available, if employers want to offer them. But only 28.8 percent of workers have the choice to vary their work hours.

Congress, moreover, could increase the minimum wage, limit mandatory overtime, provide paid family leave, encourage flex-time and shorten the standard workweek—all of which would help workers achieve a saner balance between their work and family lives.

Meanwhile, Ellen Bravo, Director of 9-5, the National Association of Working Women, reminds us that the whole point of the 40-hour workweek was to make it more difficult for employers to force workers to take extra time away from their families.

So don’t be fooled by this Republican-led effort to end the 40-hour workweek, warn critics like Bravo, or you’ll wind up working more and earning less.

This article originally ran in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Brought to You by Your Enemies
United States hires pro-Israel Christian extremists to produce news for Iraq
By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

The U.S. government this week launched its Arabic-language satellite TV news station for mostly Muslim Iraq. It is being produced in a studio—Grace Digital Media—controlled by fundamentalist Christians who are rabidly pro-Israel. That’s grace as in “by the grace of God.”

Grace Digital Media is controlled by a fundamentalist Christian millionaire, Cheryl Reagan, who last year wrested control of Federal News Service, a transcription news service, from its former owner, Cortes Randell. Randell says he met Reagan at a prayer meeting and brought her in as an investor in Federal News Service, and then she forced him out of his own company.

Grace Digital Media and Federal News Service are housed in a downtown Washington, D.C., office building along with Grace News Network. When you call the number for Grace News Network, you get a person answering, “Grace Digital Media/Federal News Service.” According to its Web site, Grace News Network is “dedicated to transmitting the evidence of God’s presence in the world today.”

“Grace News Network will be reporting the current secular news, along with aggressive proclamations that will ‘change the news’ to reflect the Kingdom of God and its purposes,” GNN proclaims.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors, the U.S. government agency producing the television news broadcasts for Iraq, likes to say it is the BBC of the USA. BBG runs Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, and Radio Sawa—Arabic-language radio for the Middle East.

“Our mission is clear,” BBG’s Joan Mower told us. “To broadcast accurate and objective news about the United States and the world. We don’t do propaganda, leafleting—we are like the BBC in that respect.”

Well, then, why hook up with Grace?

BBG’s Joan Mower said that Grace Digital Media is a mainstream production house used by all kinds of mainstream news organizations.

“Grace will have nothing to do with the editorial side of the news broadcast,” she said. “They are renting us equipment, space, studio. The Grace personnel we use include technicians, production people, but no editorial people.”

But Mower said she couldn’t get us a copy of the contract between BBG and Grace Digital Media. Nor could she say how Grace Digital was chosen as the production studio.

Grace News Network proclaims that it will be a “unique tool in the Lord’s ministry plan for the world,” according to the company’s mission statement. “Grace News Network provides networking links and portals to various ministries and news services that will be of benefit to every Christian believer and seeker of truth.”

The CEO of Grace News Network is Thorne Auchter—the same Thorne Auchter who began the dismantling of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Auchter did not return our calls seeking comment for this story.

While it’s unclear whether Grace News Network actually produces any news, it has produced a documentary movie titled Israel: Divine Destiny, which it showed at the National Press Club in September 2002. The film is about “Israel’s destiny and the United States’ role in that destiny,” according to Grace News Network.

Grace News said that it could not make a copy of the film available to us at this time, since it is now undergoing postproduction editing. Nor could it provide a transcript.

The mainstream media have documented strong and growing ties between right-wing Republican Christian fundamentalists and right-wing Sharonist Israeli expansionists. This alliance is personified in Ralph Reed’s Stand Up for Israel, a group formed to “mobilize Christians and other people of faith to support the State of Israel.”

President Bush has very strong ties to fundamentalist Christians, most notably Franklin Graham, the son of Rev. Billy Graham. Last week, Franklin Graham delivered a Good Friday message at the Pentagon, despite an uproar over his previous slander of Islam as “a very evil and wicked religion.”

Don Wagner, a professor of religion and director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at North Park University, an evangelical Christian college in Chicago, has written extensively about what he calls Christian Zionism, whose leaders he identifies as, among others, Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, and Franklin Graham.

“Christian Zionists have historically pointed to Genesis 12:3-96—I will bless those who bless you. And the one who curses you, I will curse,” Dr.Wagner said. “They have interpreted this to mean that individuals and nations who support the state of Israel will be blessed by God. It has come to mean political, economic and moral support, often uncritically rendered to the state of Israel.”

Grace News Network seems to fit the mold.

Joan Mower says that BBG is currently producing and transmitting six hours of news into Iraq, including a dubbed version of the daily evening news from ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and PBS, plus three hours of original news programming from BBG.

BBG says it sees no problem in having Grace produce the evening news broadcast for Iraq.

We called Grace Digital Media to speak with Cheryl Reagan. Her secretary told us that she has been away in extended vacation for more than a month—in Israel.

When will she back? we asked. No one knows, the secretary said.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Common Courage Press).

Joe Putrock

We Don’t Need No Education Cuts

Thousands of teachers, students, school administrators, parents and education advocates descended upon the Empire State Plaza on Saturday (May 3) to protest Gov. George E. Pataki’s proposed budget cuts to education. “If you can read this your school had money” and “Kids Not Cuts” were what a few of the many signs read. Protestors waved banners and chanted and cheered as many speakers took to the stage.

One highlight from the rally was when Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon got up and spoke to the crowd, emphasizing the importance of public education.

“I am a New York City school graduate,” yelled Nixon, “and I am the proud parent of a child that attends New York City schools.” She applauded the New York state Legislature for restoring $700 million in state education funding for this fiscal year.

Many others in the crowd also showed support for the Legislature by carrying signs that read “Thanks Shelly and Joe.” Organizers of the event estimated that attendance was somewhere close to 40,000, a number that stood in stark contrast to the 15,000 reported by the state police.

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